As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Understanding And Applying the Text
A girl, possessed by Satan, met Paul and the group on their way to prayer. She followed Paul and Silas for days. She had a spirit of divination or python Spirit. In its origin, the term, python Spirit, referred to a mythical serpent. This serpent guarded the temple and oracle of the Greek god Apollo at Delphi. Later the phrase meant a demon-possessed person. The people thought the girl had a demon that could tell fortunes.
She yelled out Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God. She yelled out they proclaimed the way of salvation. She was yelling the truth. Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God. Paul and Silas did proclaim the way of salvation. Two questions arise. First, how could Satan the father of lies, proclaim this great truth. Second, why did Paul and Silas stop her from proclaiming the truth?
Both questions have the same answer. There is a purpose to Satan’s lies. Satan lies to deceive. All great lies contain an element of truth. Satan’s purpose is to deceive. He presents himself as an angel of light. It is not a surprise his servants do the same. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Start with a little truth then twist, distort, and corrupt it. Her proclaiming was deceptive. The purpose was to confuse. The Jews of that day understand the Most High God as Yahweh. Gentiles of this period understood it as Zeus. This is the genesis of confusion.
Satan does this to this very day. The word of faith and prosperity gospels distort the true gospel. There is a kernel of truth in what they proclaim. But their doctrine is demonic.
The Roman church also distorts the truth. Its doctrine of the treasury of merit claims, men determine the dispensing of God’s grace. Their doctrine of papal infallibility overrides God’s words with the words of a man.
Both “word of faith” and Roman Catholicism claim the name of Christ. They claim the truth. Their doctrines blaspheme, distort, and twist, the Gospel. They turn it into something grotesques and unrecognizable.
Paul shut the girl up. This girl was not shut up because of what she said. Paul shut her up because of its source. Christ did the same thing. He did not allow demons to proclaim the good news. (Mark 3:11-12). They only confuse and distort.
Note: She followed Paul around yelling for many days. Paul did not immediately turn around and cast out the demon. Paul did not do this in haste. He waited for the Holy Spirit’s leading. Paul turned and talked to the demonic spirit. “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out the same hour.
This is not a formula for an exorcism. These are not magic words. It is Christ who commands demons not Paul and not us. We only do His will.
The demons fled. But they did not flee far. The slave girl’s owners did not rejoice that demons had fled. They used the girl to make money. That meant their means of income fled with the demon. The owners lost their meal ticket. Rather than rejoice, as they should, they grew angry.
The owners seized Paul and Silas. They dragged them into the market place before the magistrates. They accused Paul and Silas of advocating things that were not legal.
This may appear confusing. We tend to think Rome allowed religious freedom. When Rome conquered an area, they imposed their gods on the conquered people. The confusion occurs for two reasons. First, the people were not required to forego there gods or religion. Rome only required was them to add the roman gods to there gods. This was generally not a problem since most of the world was polytheistic. What difference did it make to add a few more gods?
Second, Rome made an exception for the Jews. The Jews were committed mono-theist. The Romans determined it was not worth their effort to convert the Jews. After all the Jews were willing to die for their God. It is easy to confuse this toleration with what we call today freedom of religion. Rome had no such thing.
Philippi was a Roman colony. Its citizens were Roman citizens. The exception extended to the Jews did not apply to them. Jewish synagogues were not allowed in a Roman colony. That is why Paul outside the gate on the Sabbath looking for a place of prayer. (Acts 16: 13)
Religious fervor can cause men to react with violence. That is what happened in Philippi. It is also why we. as Christian, should base all our life on scripture. Men have committed much evil in the name of Christianity. Men did not commit these crimes because they were following Christ’s command. Rather they committed the crimes because they had forgotten them. Ground yourself in the scripture. Test everything by the scripture.
The slave owners created a mob mentality. They accused Paul and Silas of disturbing the public peace. But it was they who disturbed the peace. The charges had three elements. First, there was a racial element. Paul and Silas were Jewish. Second, there was a social element. What Paul and Silas taught was illegal for them. And third, there was a traditional element. Paul and Silas were teaching new customs.
The magistrates ordered Paul’s and Silas’ garments torn off of them. And they ordered them beaten with rods. A possible reading of the Greek is the magistrates caused the garments to be torn off. This reading may imply the magistrates participated.
After the beating, the magistrates had Paul and Silas thrown in prison. Why? They had already punished Paul and Silas. Their crime was bringing unlawful customs. So you would assume the magistrates should expel Paul and Silas from the city. Instead, they keep Paul and Silas within the city. Prisons were to hold people until they could learn more and/or punishment dispensed. Paul and Silas had already received their punishment. The magistrates treated these servants of Christ harsher than adulterers, robbers, and other vile criminals.